17 / 2003
Marjan Drnovšek

Emigration of Slovene Women from the Historical Viewpoint

Parallely but silently and somehow in the background of the male emigration wave Slovene women have been emigrating as well in the 19th and 20th centuries. I have in mind married women who followed their husbands, young women who as sisters, daughters or fiancées followed their brothers, fathers and fiancés, and as well independent women, who left for the world with hope for a better life. The strongest category was wives although it is difficult to prove so with statistical data. Overall, the number of women emigrants was at all times smaller than that of men, although never negligible. In the Austrian period (until the outbreak of World War I) women presented in the Austrian wave 35 percent (1876-1910), from the administrative provinces in Slovenia, for example Carniola 21,4% (1892), from the region of Kočevje of the mentioned country 31,3% (1892). In Egypt Slovene women composed as much as 96,3% of the Slovene wave (1897). In the 1900 census in Germany 29,8% of Slovene women decided for Slovene language. In the emigration wave from Prekmurje between the two wars (1918-1941), women presented 29% (1929), 36% (1930), and 41% (1931). Among Slovene immigrants in Germany in 1939 as many as 45,7% were women. In the after-war emigration wave there were in 1971 as many as 40,1% of women from the territory of the entire Yugoslavia. Women were particularly employed as cooks, servants, governesses, wet nurses (Egypt), emigration teachers, workers; very few among them were educated. The gradation of the extent of employed immigrants increased during the entire mentioned period. Very few were until 1914, with the exception of straw-hat manufacturers from Domžale (New York, Cleveland, Chicago), and wet-nurses, nurses and governesses in Egypt. Between the two wars, women were as seasonal workers massively leaving for France and Germany. We find a larger number of employed women in the after-war economic emigration wave to Germany and to the Scandinavian countries.

The attitude of the Catholic Church to the emigration of women was negative but at the same time approving with the condition that families remain together when abroad. The states (Austria, the first and the second Yugoslavia) dealt less with the mentioned problematic. Among few male intellectuals, we find their views upon emigration of women and their life in the new environments, but more viewpoints of educated women. For example, the writer Zofka Kveder (1878-1926), Ana Župančič, the politician Alojzija Štebi wrote about women-emigrants and after 1945 the politicians Vida Tomšič, Zora Tomič and others. We find quite a few among emigrants.

The paper wishes to remind of numerous not researched spheres regarding the role of women emigrants in new environments, their education, employment and political rights. From the viewpoint of strengthening Slovene identity abroad, the role of mothers in educating children was of significant importance – if we judge from journalistic literature and printed sources. We find women in emigrant organisations, as co-operators in newspapers, teachers of emigrant children, missionaries etc. Rare were emigrant societies that were exclusively women’s which is valid for newspapers as well.

In short, in view of researching the female part of migration events with Slovenes, not to mention the infant’s part, we are only at the beginning, particularly if we have in mind the historical aspect for the time of modern emigrations in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Marjan Drnovšek is PhD of history and archivist at the Inštitut za slovensko izseljenstvo ZRC SAZU in Ljubljana, and researching various aspects of migration movements with Slovenes in the 19th and 20th centuries.